New Zealand entered the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019 as dark horses. They overcame an up-and-down group stage to get within inches of claiming their maiden title. They return home heartbroken, but with two finals in two editions, have demonstrated the country's cricketing pedigree.
New Zealand began the World Cup in dominant fashion, dismantling Sri Lanka for 136 before romping home by 10 wickets. They built on that start to notch up four wins from their next four completed games, with one match, against India, ending in a washout. Successive defeats to Pakistan, Australia and England in the end put their hopes of progressing into the semi-finals under risk, but their healthy net run rate held them in good stead.
In the semi-final, New Zealand met India, who were pegged by many as heavy favourites for the clash after their consistent display in the group stages. But a stellar bowling effort by the Black Caps helped them defend 239/8 by 18 runs, after having ripped out the phenomenal Indian top-order. They then looked similarly well-poised to secure their maiden World Cup trophy in the final at Lord's, after scoring 241/8.
However, a dramatic final over – which included four extra runs to England when an otherwise accurate throw from Martin Guptill deflected off a diving Ben Stokes' bat to the boundary for overthrows – resulted in them being able to only hold England to a tie. Set 16 to chase in the Super Over, they once again levelled scores, but lost out on the boundary count, giving England their maiden title. It's an understatement to say the game could have gone either way. New Zealand will feel heartbroken, but perhaps after that display, will not be billed as dark horses at the 2023 edition of the flagship one-day event.
Positives to take home
The biggest positive for New Zealand would have to be their bowling, which – at least statistically speaking – was supremely efficient. New Zealand's bowlers claimed 82 wickets - the most after England's - in the tournament at 27.86 and conceded runs at under five an over – the only team in the competition to do so.
Tearaway pacer Lockie Ferguson was their leading wicket-taker, with a haul of 21 scalps, behind only Australia's Mitchell Starc. Fellow fast bowlers Matt Henry, Jimmy Neesham and Trent Boult took 46 wickets between them, while Mitchell Santner's left-arm spin got him six scalps at an economy rate of 4.82.
As for the batting, skipper Williamson was magnificent. In an otherwise misfiring batting unit, he shouldered the bulk of the load with distinction, scoring 578 at 82.57 from nine innings – a whopping 28.57 per cent of his team's aggregate in the tournament.
Areas to improve
New Zealand's batting wasn't very consistent on the whole. After Williamson, the most productive batsman was Ross Taylor, with 350 runs at 38.88, followed by Jimmy Neesham, with an aggregate of 232. The difference between Williamson and the rest was telling.
The opening was an area of particular concern, with all of Martin Guptill, Colin Munro and Henry Nicholls scoring only three fifties between them and not a single century. Considering other openers, such as Rohit Sharma and David Warner were the tournament's top run-scorers, with close to 650 runs each, New Zealand's output at the top was especially bleak, with a total of only 402 between their three openers.
Wearing a thick moustache, Lockie Ferguson has a '70s look about him, but it's his brand of menacing and sharp fast bowling that finishes off the vintage touch.
Regularly clocking over 150 kmph, Ferguson is unafraid to use the bouncer, which sends out a stern reminder to batsmen to not get too comfortable on the front foot. All the same, he refrains from overdoing the short length, instead relying on good length areas to give himself the best chance of capturing wickets.
The 28-year-old had shown promising signs since his international debut in late 2016, but has since matured to eliminate the accuracy issues that often plague bowlers of his pace. It's little wonder that he finished the World Cup with 21 wickets at 19.47, with an equally impressive economy rate of 4.88.
If he retains these qualities, he could well form one of the most dangerous fast-bowling combinations with Trent Boult and Matt Henry in limited-overs cricket. One is tempted to think that he might soon feature in Test cricket too.
01 June: v Sri Lanka, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff – New Zealand won by 10 wickets
05 June: v Bangladesh, Kennington Oval, London – New Zealand won by two wickets
08 June: v Afghanistan, County Ground, Taunton – New Zealand won by seven wickets
13 June: v India, Trent Bridge, Nottingham – Match abandoned without toss
19 June: v South Africa, Edgbaston, Birmingham – New Zealand won by four wickets
22 June: v West Indies, Old Trafford, Manchester – New Zealand won by five runs
26 June: v Pakistan, Edgbaston, Birmingham – Pakistan won by six wickets
29 June: v Australia, Lord's, London – Australia won by 86 runs
03 July: v England, Riverside Ground, Chester-le-Street – England won by 119 runs
09 July: v India, Old Trafford, Manchester – New Zealand won by 18 runs
14 July: v England, Lord's, London – Match tied (England won the Super Over on boundary count)